Government seems not to be adhering to the warnings of the internationally acclaimed Doctors without Borders (MSF), that it should tighten its borders with neighboring Ebola affected states as the status quo (businesses as usual) still persists.
Though it appears that Liberia now has an upper-hand in the fight against the deadly virus with fewer cases and low infection rates and Ebola Treatment Units (ETU) virtually empty, this advantage could be short-live if government does not listen to the warnings from international partners.
MSF last month warned government of possible spillovers of the deadly EVD again into Liberia if stringent measures are not taken to tighten the borders with neighboring affected countries.
The MSF coordinator of the Foya Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in Lofa County, the largest in the country at that time,, Dr. Serge St-Louise, said if Ebola is to be contained in the country, the government must do all it can to properly monitor the movement of people, especially along the borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone, where it is being reported that the Ebola infection rates are still high.
Dr. St-Louise was addressing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other dignitaries at the Foya ETU, where the Liberian leader had gone to assess the Ebola situation and identify with health workers.
He told the President that Ebola Treatment Centers in neighboring communities of Guinea and Sierra Leone along the borders with Lofa, specifically Macenta and Gueckedou, were reaching their full capacities and overwhelmed with cases.
Dr. St-Louise warned that although significant gains have been made, the government should take serious security measures at the border areas, aimed at preventing a recurrence of how the virus was transmitted from Guinea and later spread throughout the country.
Though the borders were ordered closed from the onset of the outbreak, the measures are still not effective as trade between the bordering communities continues.
Government seems not to be acting on MSF’s warning as cross-border trading is still ongoing, with no stringent security measures yet in place as is being reported, leaving many Lofa residents fearing the worst.
During a visit to Voinjama, Kolahun and Foya over the weekend, the Daily Observer heard many residents express fear that traders from the neighboring communities, especially Guinea, are still crossing the borders on a daily basis.
“We want to thank God that the Ebola situation is really going down here. The ambulances are not passing like before and people are not really getting sick with the virus like we used to see. But the only thing here is that we learned that the sickness is really killing people in Guinea and Sierra Leone. This is not good for us because we have common borders with these two nations and business people come here every day,” Ballah Gwaiyah, a resident of Kolahun said.
Mr. Gwaiyah also alleged that Liberia National Police (LNP) and Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) officers assigned at the border points usually compromise with traders who transport their goods in trucks and other vehicles.
“Our police people are not doing a great job here. They are not screening the people good. The business people can just give them money and pass. We need to be careful because we don’t know who has the sickness. Our government even supposed to stop people from coming in here,” he said.
Another resident of Foya, Moses Fayiah, re-echoed the warning of the MSF Coordinator that stringent measures need to be put into place to deter traders and others from coming across into the country.
“When we think about what Ebola did to our people in this place we don’t want to imagine about its recurrence because our people suffered and died a lot. So we want for government to do all it can to stop cross border trade in this place for now,” Mr. Fayiah warned.
Dr. St-Louise’s warning came at the same time with positive reports that the infection rate of the virus in Lofa County had reduced significantly, with only six patients left in the ETU, who are to be discharged shortly.
It was from one of these same neighboring communities that Foya, a town that shares borders with both Guinea and Sierra Leone, registered the country’s first case of the Ebola virus disease from the Guinean side in February 2014. The virus later spread rapidly, killing hundreds in the county and thousands in the country.
Addressing the MSF Coordinator’s warning, the President said then that government would ensure that the immigration officers vigilantly protect the borders, something that is not happening now, according to residents.
This is a very grave concern, she said, “We have many places where people cross borders without going thru the conventional or required formalities. But we will continue to ask the Immigration officers to monitor very carefully.”
She noted that there was a need for government to work with its Guinean and Sierra Leonean counterparts. “We all are leaders and we talk to each other and work together and collaborate. So we hope that on their side, as we have done on our side, we will put in proper ETUs and proper health care systems.”
The president, delivering a state of the nation address recently, alluded to the fact that Liberia will not be free from the virus until its neighbors are also free.
“We also know that Liberia cannot be declared Ebola free until our neighbors are also Ebola free. This means that we cannot let down our guard nor can we afford to reduce our vigilance. This is why, in keeping with the public health law, we are determined to enable the maintenance of the required vigilance, community mobilization and awareness, as well as sustain the gains,” she said.
She added, “Until we can start the progressive countdown of 21 days, until the national goal of zero-new-cases by Christmas is achieved all across the country, we will keep many of the previous measures in place with appropriate adjustments, consistent with the progress in our fight.”
But are these measures the President is talking about really happening in the bushes where these porous borders are?